Saturday 20 January 2018

Di Canio eyes up greatest conquest

Jonathan Liew

"TO score that winning goal," Paolo Di Canio says, "was like having sex with Madonna."

He is describing his strike for West Ham at Old Trafford in 2001, the one that knocked Manchester United out of the English FA Cup.

The point being made is that the former Celtic striker knows a thing or two about giant-killing.

But only the Swindon Town manager could take an innocuous question about cup football and use it to describe relations with a 54-year-old woman.

Which gives you some idea of how his mind works: freewheeling, feisty, full of ideas.

Di Canio will not always make friends, and quite a lot of the time he will not even make sense. But he will leave no thought unspoken, no taboo intact.

To conform is to compromise, and to compromise is to surrender. No, he will not surrender.

Perhaps that explains his outstanding record in knockout competition. In the 18 months since he joined Swindon, he has taken charge of 10 matches against teams from a higher division, and prevailed in eight.

Tonight, in front of the largest crowd of the season, Aston Villa will visit Swindon's County Ground with a place in the last eight of the League Cup at stake.

Already in his short managerial career, Wigan, Stoke, Brighton and Burnley have tasted defeat at the scrawny hands of Di Canio's team, who are currently seventh in League One after winning promotion last season.

How does he keep doing it? "I have to select more carefully than ever the negative and the positive details from an opponent," he says.

"It's obvious that many players we are going to face are well-known players. Everybody knows Darren Bent, everybody knows Gabriel Agbonlahor. But not too many details.

"You have to select a very, very few. Because in this moment, the high concentration we have already, the high motivation and passion, can be burned if you send them 200 details. That is my way to manage in this kind of situation."

Based on the evidence of just over a year, Di Canio is already proving himself a much more versatile manager than many gave him credit for when he first took over.

At the outset, he declared that discipline would be the central plank of his managerial style.

How does he reckon he has performed in that regard? "Since last year, I didn't have one player sent off for a challenge," he says.

But how can a man who perpetrated some of the worst misdemeanours on the field lecture players off it?

"It's easy for me," he says. "I was wrong. I can help you, because I was wrong. I was stupid.

"Do you want to be stupid like me? I am tough on this, probably because I made a lot of mistakes. I lost a lot of energy in crucial games and missed a lot of chances to be a better footballer."

If Di Canio, who scored 12 goals for Celtic in the 1996-'97 season, is an uncompromising prospect in public, imagine what he is like in the privacy of the dressing room.

Captain Alan McCormack does not have to. "He's fiery in front of people's eyes, but he's even worse when he gets us behind closed doors," he says. "When he loses, you know about it. If you let it affect you, you'd be a nervous wreck half the time." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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